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American art: before 1900

Last Updated: 2-Mar-2015

This guide is designed as an introductory bibliography for students new to the field of pre-1900 American art; as point of reference for students targeting their research; and as a means to highlight relevant primary sources held at the Art & Architecture Library and Special Collections.

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Reid W. Dennis collection of California lithographs, 1850-1906 - Image courtesy of Special Collections / SUL

The history of American art before the twentieth century is dominated by the field of painting, and this guide reflects that. Also represented, however, are myriad other artistic practices, including sculpture, photography, and printmaking. American art, while based on the traditions of Western art stretching back to the Renaissance and beyond, has also been deeply influenced by the art of indigenous and immigrant peoples. Art thus emerges as a key means of understanding the history of this dynamic and rapidly-changing country.

This guide was created by Grant Hamming, a Ph.D. candidate in Art History in the Department of Art & Art History.

Introductory texts

Boston : David R. Godine in association with the Whitney Museum of American Art, c1976.
Art & Architecture Library » Stacks » NB205 .T87 1976 F
This catalog of an exhibition that took place at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1976 presents a solid breakdown of the major trends and figures in American sculpture until 1976, with contributions of several scholars. It also includes the sculpture of Native Americans and folk artists. Of particular value for someone just embarking on a project is the presence of brief biographies of the artists included in the exhibition, as well as a short bibliography of scholarly works related to each artist. Though the reader will have to consult other sources for more recent sculpture and scholarship, this catalog provides an excellent entry into the field. Wayne Craven has also written an excellent survey textbook on the subject, Sculpture in America. For an examination of more recent sculpture, see one of the more general survey texts on this list, especially American Encounters. [GWH]
Boulder, Colo. : Icon Editions/Westview Press, c2001.
Art & Architecture Library » Stacks » NA705 .R669 2001
American Architecture: A History is the most comprehensive recent survey of American architecture, examining everything from the art of the ancient peoples who inhabited the North American continent centuries before European arrival in the New World to the postmodern architecture of the late twentieth century. The work contains information on most of the canonical architecture in American history, especially beginning with the middle of the seventeenth century. Each chapter includes a bibliography, and the work as a whole includes a glossary. Though the work is amply illustrated, like most architectural history textbooks the images are primarily in black-and-white. The image database ARTstor contains a wide variety of color architectural images that might usefully supplement this text. For a work that includes some color illustrations as well as a thematic approach that eschews coverage of the entirety of the canon in favor of a thematic exploration of American architecture (and that plays especial attention to more vernacular forms as well as urbanism and city planning), see Dell Upton’s Architecture in the United States.
New York : McGraw-Hill, c2003.
Art & Architecture Library » Reference (non-circulating) » N6505 .C7 2003
American Art: History and Culture, spanning nearly 700 pages, offers a comprehensive overview, with an emphasis on cultural context, of American art from the Colonial Era to the present. Each section considers a major era in American art and history, with chapters focusing on specific mediums, such as painting or sculpture. Individual chapters begin with a section of historical background, followed by sections exploring important themes as well as individual artists. Though its tone is often dry, and its pacing is deliberate, Craven’s book remains unmatched in terms of comprehensive coverage of American painting and sculpture. The book includes an extensive bibliography that lists many of the most current sources on individual movements and artists as of the book’s publication. Consultation of this bibliography would be an excellent second step in pursuing research on one of the topics explored in the book. For a similarly comprehensive, survey-level examination of American sculpture specifically, see also Craven’s Sculpture in America.
Upper Saddle River, NJ : Pearson/Prentice Hall, c2008.
Art & Architecture Library » Stacks » N6505 .A29 2008
American Encounters, which was co-written by some of the top scholars in American art today (including Stanford Professor Bryan Wolf), represents an attempt to re-frame the way that the history of American art is taught. The book retains the combined chronological and thematic focus of earlier books, but it demonstrates sensitivity to the concerns of twenty-first century scholarship while remaining accessible to the beginning student. By framing the history of American art as a series of encounters between and among diverse groups of people and individuals, the authors seek to free American Art History from previous nationalism while more fully exploring American artistic diversity. For example, American Encounters devotes more space to vernacular and folk traditions, especially among women and ethnic minorities, than the still-excellent American Art: History and Culture, found in this guide. While it eschews completeness in terms of tracking the career of any one American artist, it does an exemplary job of giving a more complete picture of American visual culture from the prehistoric to the present. Its bibliography, which has the advantage of being arranged by chapter, and thus chronologically, is also the most current on this list, and provides an excellent entry-point for further research.
Kansas City, Mo. : Hall Family Foundation in association with the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art ; New Haven : Distributed by Yale University Press., [2007].
Art & Architecture Library » Reference (non-circulating) » TR23 .D385 2007 F
Published to coincide with the exhibition "Developing Greatness: The Origins of American Photography, 1839-1885" at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and based on the Hallmark Photographic Collection, Davis's text moves beyond both exhibition and collection catalog and serves as a detailed survey of nineteenth-century American photography. When used in conjunction with his An American Century of Photography: From Dry-Plate to Digital, the two texts provide the most complete two volume history of American photography available. While The Origins of American Photography does focus extensively on the daguerreotype, there is good coverage of the development of paper photography, and Davis does engage in questions such as the spread of the photographic image in 19th century popular culture. Another excellent nineteenth-century survey, but from the perspective of multiple authors, is Photography in Nineteenth-Century America, edited by Martha Sandweiss, with essays by Sandweiss, Davis, and other noted authors, including Peter Bacon Hales and Alan Trachtenberg.

Focused studies

Rev. and expanded ed. Berkeley : University of California Press, c2003.
Art & Architecture Library » Stacks » N6538 .N5 L38 2003
African American Art and Artists is the most complete current survey of African American art. Lewis follows a chronological approach for her study of the topic, beginning with the landing of the first African indentured servants in Virginia in 1619 and ending in 2000. The work’s focus is in the twentieth century, as documentary evidence of earlier African American artists is often hard to come by. Her approach relates the artistic expression of African Americans to the wider history of American art and history. More importantly, however, it also explores that artistic expression on its own terms, as a unique feature of Black American cultural life. Within each chapter the artists are generally arranged by medium. For a thematic approach to African American Art that also demonstrates a profound engagement with discourses of feminism and postmodernism as well as race and ethnicity, see Sharon F. Patton’s African-American Art. For an exploration of African American art in the nineteenth century see Kirsten P. Buick’s essay “A Way Out of No Way” in the catalog The Walter O. Evans Collection of African American Art. [GWH]
New York : Whitney Museum of American Art in association with W.W. Norton, 1999.
Art & Architecture Library » Stacks » N6512 .H355 1999
This exhibition catalog from the Whitney Museum of American Art presents, along with its sister catalog The American Century: Art and Culture, 1950-2000, an exhaustive review of American art and culture from the twentieth century. Beginning with the remnants of Guilded Age culture and ending with the identity and video art of the end of the century, these two exhibitions covered virtually every aspect of American visual culture in between. This includes not only painting and sculpture, but also cinema, architecture, design, illustration, music, and urban planning. Richly illustrated and well-annotated, these two works represent perhaps the most wide-ranging introduction to twentieth century American art available.
1st ed. New York : W.W. Norton & Co., c2008.
Green Library » Stacks » PN1993.5 .U6 L46 2008
This work presents a chronological history of American film, beginning with the end of the nineteenth century and ending with the beginning of the twentieth. Lewis focuses on Hollywood cinema throughout its major periods, but he also examines independent filmmakers. Each chapter contains key contextual material about American society that supports a history not only of directors and actors, but also of the various behind-the-scenes actors who make movies possible. The volume also contains an ample bibliography for further reading on each of Hollywood’s major eras. Lewis’s book mostly, however, examines canonical films while downplaying issues of gender, race, and class. For a survey of these issues, once again mostly in the context of Hollywood, see Harry Benshoff and Sean Griffin’s America on Film: Representing Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality at the Movies. Lewis’s book also omits the important and interesting work of American avant-garde filmmakers. For an excellent overview of their work, see P. Adams Stitney’s Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde.
New Haven : Yale University Press, c1991.
Art & Architecture Library » Stacks » ND1451.5 .J64 1991
This key study examines a group of paintings from the first half of the nineteenth century, before the Civil War, that purported to show scenes of everyday American life. Johns looks at these paintings, known as genre paintings, not just as reflections of wider cultural and historical trends, but also as texts in their own right, with messages and political agendas of their own. She eschews complete coverage in favor of what she calls an “interpretive essay.” Nevertheless, this work represents a crucial starting point, along with Sarah Burns’s Pastoral Inventions, for study of American representations of daily life. Johns moves beyond Burns’s focus strictly on rural life, however, to examine representations of Yankee yeoman farmers, Western frontiersmen, African Americans, women, and urban Americans. For an account of American genre painting with a longer chronological focus and a less critical interpretation, see the catalog for the exhibition "American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life, 1765-1915."
Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press, c2005.
Art & Architecture Library » Stacks » N6515 .L68 2005
Lovell’s book represents an intriguing attempt to re-formulate the way Colonial American art is conceived. Beholden to a later tradition of seeing artists as singular entities whose work springs from inner genius, scholars, Lovell asserts, have misinterpreted the functions of paintings in early America. She notes that painters were--though they contested this designation--still seen as craftsmen who produced luxury goods that were in many ways akin to furniture and other “decorative” arts for home consumption and display. It is this focus on the home that drives the work, as Lovell uses American art and craft production within and for the home in order to examine American culture of that time. The book’s focus is limited, unfortunately, to New England. For introductory information to colonial art in the areas of New Spain that would eventually be incorporated into America, see the beginning chapters of American Encounters.
This book represents the first serious survey of art produced by Asian Americans. Like most histories of the art of minorities in the United States, the bulk of its information is on the twentieth century, for which there are more documentary sources and more remembered artists. Nevertheless, the volume offers an able synthesis of recent scholarship on Asian American art, and the endnotes following each chapter provide ample opportunity for further exploration. The chapters, which are arranged via a mixture of theme, medium, and geography, were each written by a different author, exposing the reader not only to a diversity of artistic production, but also to different scholarly methods. The book also provides helpful biographies of individual artists, as well as a chronology of Asian American art and history. One of the book’s weaknesses is that it does not cover the relatively small number of Asian immigrants who arrived in the United States before 1850, but this is a mostly minor omission. For information on Asian American artists since 1970, one should consult the exhibition catalogs Asia/America: Identities in Contemporary Asian-American Art and One Way or Another: Asian American Art Now.
Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, c2003.
Art & Architecture Library » Stacks » N8232 .H37 2003
Harris, an artist as well as art historian, traces the representation of blackness, one of the most fraught categories of personhood in the United States, throughout American history, from the colonial era to the contemporary. His approach views race as a social construction and seeks to understand how stereotyped representations of blacks in visual culture served to construct and reinforce white identity while also helping to construct negative black self-identity. A central focus of the book is on African American self-representation. The book lacks a separate bibliography, though sources can be found through examination of footnotes. For an earlier work that ably focuses on nineteenth-century white representations of blackness, and that reaches many of the same conclusions and also contains a bibliography, see Albert Boime’s The Art of Exclusion: Representing Blacks in the Nineteenth Century.
Ithaca : Cornell University Press, 1993.
Art & Architecture Library » Stacks » ND 1351.5 .M53 1993
Miller’s book takes as its object of study the group of painters that she terms the “First New York School," but which is more commonly known as the Hudson River School. The work explores, starting with a study of painter Thomas Cole and moving to examinations of the New York-based painters who based their own work on his, how a relatively parochial, regional phenomenon, landscape painting of the Northeast, primarily New England and Upstate New York, came to represent the United States as a whole. Miller sees these artists as, at their cores, exemplars of American nationalism. The bulk of the book shows, through a careful analysis of contemporary art, literature, and other cultural production, how this vision came to be applied to the whole nation, with a particular eye to the racial and sectional tensions surrounding the American Civil War (1861-1865). Miller’s work takes the same dates as Barbara Novak’s landmark 1980 study, Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting, 1825-1875, a slightly earlier study that also sought to examine these well-known paintings in their cultural context.
New York : Metropolitan Museum of Art : Rizzoli, c1986.
Green Library » Stacks » N6510.5 .E25 I5 1986 F
This monumental exhibition catalog explores the art and visual culture of the Aesthetic period, which in the United States was principally the final three decades of the nineteenth century. As Americans gained in prosperity during this period, artists became more cosmopolitan and began to integrate themselves further into the international art world, increasingly collecting a diverse array of foreign and “exotic” art works whose motifs they often adopted for their own work. The essays in this catalog explore the impact of these trends not only on painting and other “fine” arts, but also on ceramics, metalworks, stained glass, furniture, and other design-based, decorative modes of expression. The volume’s dictionary of artists and bibliography provide a wealth of information to direct further research. For a more in-depth study of painting of the period, see the catalog American Impressionism and Realism: The Painting of Modern Life, 1885-1915.
New Haven : Yale University Press, c1996.
Green Library » Bender Room (non-circulating) » N6510 .B87 1996
Burns posits in this work, contrary to earlier assertions, that the roots of American artistic modernity in the twentieth century lie not with the early works of the Ashcan School, but rather in the trans-Atlantic artistic culture of the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By focusing on the most famous contemporary artists, including James McNeill Whistler, John Singer Sargent, George Inness, Cecilia Beaux, and Albert Pinkham Ryder, Burns demonstrates how artists utilized print and other mass media to create highly public personas. Her study is guided by the rapid cultural changes of the period that included urbanization, industrialization, mass spectacle, and consumerism. This work represents a key study of many of the most famous artists of turn-of-the-twentieth-century America. For an in-depth, compelling study of George Inness’s relationship to modernity and technology, see Rachel Ziady DeLue’s George Inness and the Science of Landscape. For a study of a key artist, Thomas Eakins, whom Burns does not consider at great length, see Elizabeth Johns’s Thomas Eakins: The Heroism of Modern Life.
London : Thames & Hudson, 2004.
Art & Architecture Library » Request at circulation desk » E98 .A7 P36 2004
Penney, a leading scholar of Native American Art, presents in this book a brief but thorough survey of the art of indigenous Americans from prehistory to the present, with a focus on artistic production prior to the twentieth century. The book is arranged geographically and thematically, due to the difficulty of pinpointing the individual artists, and sometimes even cultures that may have produced works of art. Penney follows recent thinking in art history and anthropology in stressing how American Indians had very different conceptions of art than their European counterparts. This leads him to take a material culture approach that borrows much from anthropology and archaeology. In addition to the text itself the book contains a brief bibliography, arranged by chapter, which can provide additional sources on individual subjects. For a lavishly-illustrated volume that provides more examples of Native art but has less text and no bibliography, see Penney’s Native American Art. For more in-depth explorations of twentieth century Native art, see Native American Art in the Twentieth Century: Makers, Meanings, Histories, edited by W. Jackson Rushing III.
Philadelphia : Temple University Press, 1989.
Art & Architecture Library » Stacks » NX650.C69 B87 1989
Burns traces the development of the myth of the farm as pastoral paradise, still operative today, from its origins in the beginning of the nineteenth century. Through an analysis of landmark paintings of the American landscape as well as genre paintings purporting to depict everyday rural life, Burns demonstrates that contemporary and historical visions of the idyllic nature of rural life are reflections not so much of reality as of deep ambivalence and anxiety about the effects of industrialization and capitalism on American society. Through an able examination of such images in relation to wider literary, historical, and cultural trends and events, Burns demonstrates that the pastoral ideal is an artificial construction rather than an organic truth. Of particular note is her use of popular culture, especially the prints of the famed lithographers Currier and Ives. This focus on popular culture allows her to show that these ideas were widespread throughout society, not merely the theoretical concerns of the wealthy elite. For an in-depth exploration of Currier and Ives, see Bryan F. LeBeau’s Currier and Ives: America Imagined.
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c1997.
Green Library » Stacks » E468.9 .S28 1997
This book focuses on the process of commemorating the American Civil War. After the Civil War the country saw the greatest (and first) efflorescence of public monument-building in its history. The new monuments were part of the larger process of healing the cultural and societal wounds engendered by the war, as well as dealing with the legacy of slavery. As Savage notes, the idea of slavery was an uncomfortable one for people after the Civil War, and much cultural energy was expended maintaining the racial status quo. His analysis is guided by the key observation that sculpture and race are ideally suited for one another, as sculpture’s main goal in Western society has been to define perfection. Sculptures of white bodies always portrayed a physical ideal based on Greek and Roman antiquity, while contemporary discourses on race emphasized the black body’s departure from the white ideal. Please note that this book is available in Green Library.For a similarly thorough exploration of nineteenth century sculptural representations of one of America’s other great minorities, the woman, see Joy Kasson’s Marble Queens and Captives: Women in Nineteenth-Century American Sculpture.
Berkeley : University of California Press, c2001.
Art & Architecture Library » Stacks » N72 .R4 V57 2001
This anthology takes a visual/material culture approach to the study of the intersections of American art and religion. By examining not only fine art but also a diverse array of more vernacular forms, editors Morgan and Promey hope to shed light on a subject that they feel has been under-studied. Contributions cover a diverse array of art forms, including not only painting, sculpture, and architecture, but also illustration, printmaking, postcards, and book illustration. In addition to individual contributions, the volume provides an ample bibliography that can act as a jumping-off-point for further research. A year before the publication of this book, Morgan and Promey co-curated an exhibition, "Exhibiting the Visual Culture of American Religions," that provides a number of high-quality color images as well as brief introductions to individual works and a wealth of bibliographic material.
Washington : Published for the National Museum of American Art by the Smithsonian Institution Press, c1991.
Art & Architecture Library » Stacks » F596 .W493 1991
The catalog to a landmark exhibition of the same name, this book deals with one of the most pervasive and popular of American myths: that of the Wild West. With contributions from several important scholars of American art, The West as America traces how various artists and other cultural producers represented the West, not as it really was, but as Eastern Seaboard society wished for and needed it to be. Topics include representations of progress, American Indians, settlement, capitalism, and nostalgia. Though the exhibition itself was hailed by many scholars for its groundbreaking revisionist historical approach, conservative elements of mainstream culture seized on it as a demonstration of the liberal bias of the academy. The catalog thus serves not only as a strong introduction to the American West in art, it also provides an entry into wider cultural discourses about art in the early 1990s. For an in-depth look at Frederic Remington, an important turn-of-the-twentieth-century artist of the West, see Frederic Remington and Turn-of-the-Century America by contributor (and Stanford professor) Alexander Nemerov.

Source texts

Berkeley : University of California Press, c2009.
Art & Architecture Library » Stacks » N6505 .B87 2009
Burns and Davis present a huge trove of documents relating to the history of American art. These documents consist of the writings of artists and critics, along with legal documents, philosophy, practical advice, and fiction. The editors, in part responding to earlier works such as John McCoubrey’s 1965 compilation American Art : Sources and Documents, 1700-1960, emphasize not only art by and for dominant groups, but also the visual culture created and consumed by women, African Americans, Native Americans, and other minority groups. The book is arranged chronologically, with some adjustments for greater thematic coherence. Each group of essays is preceded by contextual material that helps situate the documents in the wider cultural and historical milieu. Though the editors have attempted to keep sources unabridged as often as possible, space concerns have prevented this. They have provided the original location of each source they cite, however, helping point readers not only to original sources but to the types of sources which are valuable for the study of American art.
Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall [1965]
Art & Architecture Library » Stacks » N6505 .M26
This work is the first major sourcebook focusing on American art, and as such it had an enormous influence on an entire generation of scholars. The book is generally organized thematically, though these themes also have broader chronological cohesion. McCoubrey tracks the history of American art from its earliest emphasis on portraiture, through the rise of the great nineteenth century landscape schools to modernism and, finally, Abstract Expressionism. The sources have primarily been penned by artists, though critics, patrons, and literary figures are also included. Two later compilations, Patricia Hills’s Modern Art in the USA and Sarah Burns and John Davis’s American Art to 1900 present more numerous as well as more diverse sources, but McCoubrey’s book remains an excellent introduction to the documentary history of American art. [GWH]
Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press, c2003.
Art & Architecture Library » Stacks » NA705 .B759 2003
This book compiles a number of important sources dealing not just with architecture, but with the entirety of America’s built environment. The built environment encompasses architecture (both formal and informal) as well as vernacular building styles, urban planning and space, the creation of parks, and other manipulations of the landscape. The book contains sources from the American Revolution to the turn of the twenty-first century. Thematically organized, the text minimizes its attention on great and monumental buildings such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater or the U.S. Capitol, instead focusing on the much more common, everyday architecture which has had the greatest effect on everyday Americans. For an earlier work that has more of a traditional focus on the “great works” of American architecture, see Leland M. Roth’s America Builds: Source Documents in American Architecture and Planning.
New York : Princeton Architectural Press : Smithsonian Archives of American Art, c2010.
Art & Architecture Library » Stacks » N6505 .K47 2010
This book, more light-hearted in tone than many of the large compilations of documents found in this section, is far from a complete look at any one topic. This compilation samples the archives of a number of Americans, mostly artists but also thinkers and other writers, from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Its value lies not only in the window it provides into the working processes of a number of important American (and occasionally European) artists, but also in that it provides an introduction to some of the conditions of archival work. A look at this book will show that primary sources are not always neatly typed and printed like they are in source books, but rather contain all the messy penmanship, doodling, and other distractions of everyday handwritten materials. Additionally, it provides a window into the vast, useful collections of the Archives of American Art. Kirwin also edited a similar volume of illustrated letters from the Archives of American Art, entitled More Than Words: Illustrated Letters from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art. [GWH]

Primary sources

This collection of prints, originally published in the San Francisco Newsletter and Advertiser, are done in a medium called collotype, which is a photographic process that is very similar in execution to lithography. A majority of the prints depict the fashionable homes of the wealthy of San Francisco and other Bay Area towns, including Alameda, Oakland, and Santa Clara. Additionally, however, the collection includes prints depicting major buildings in the business district, as well as picturesque views of the surrounding landscape, including Yosemite National Park. Finally, there are a significant number of prints depicting panoramic views of San Francisco. Textual accompaniments describing the building or scenery depicted accompanied the prints. This collection represents not only an important production by one of the most accomplished printmaking companies in California, it also provides a window into the appearance and architecture of San Francisco at the turn of the twentieth century. See also the Reid W. Dennis Collection of California Lithographs, 1850-1906.
Special Collections » Manuscript Collection » M0690 BOX 1
Blackface minstrelsy was one of the most popular and enduring musical and performance genres in the United States from before the Civil War to after World War II. Usually performed by white men who had darkened their faces with burnt cork, minstrel shows presented a buffoonish and cartoonish racial caricature of African American physiognomy and behavior. It served as one of the primary cultural bulwarks of the Jim Crow period, contributing to negative white perceptions of black people for over a century. One of the most notable features of this art form was its sheet music, which often featured lavishly illustrated and lithographed caricatures of African Americans as part of the cover art. This collection, the finding aid for which can be found online, presents an overview of how these caricatures were drawn over nearly a hundred years, offering a glimpse into the changing, yet eternal, nature of these representations. For the definitive account of blackface minstrelsy and its relation to American culture, see Eric Lott’s Love and Theft.
New York [18--?]
Art & Architecture Library » Locked Stacks, Small » HQ734 .H76 1860
This book, likely published in the 1860s by the American Tract Society, presents an intriguing example of Victorian sentimental culture. During the nineteenth century, middle-class culture in the United States, mirroring developments in Britain, began to stress the home as a bastion of morality against increasingly coarse and competitive market culture. The mother, frequently called the “Angel in the Home” became the primary defender and transmitter of Christian morality in society. This book follows the common practice of the time of compiling previously-published material in the service of a larger didactic goal: in this case, the exaltation of the family and motherhood. Intriguingly, it combines popular sentimental songs of the era with passages from more literary sources, such as the poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and John Milton as well as the novelist John Irving. Photographs of paintings of simple, sentimental domestic scenes that were common at the time enliven the tract’s text. For an excellent scholarly account of Victorian American domestic culture, see Kenneth Ames’s Death in the Dining Room and Other Tales of Victorian Culture. Karen Halttunen’s Confidence Men and Painted Women presents an equally excellent account of the division between public and private spheres around the time when this book was published (Note: both books can be found in Green Library.)
One of the several illustrated travelogues George Catlin, also well known as a painter of Indian life and the landscape of the West, published during his lifetime, this two-volume work consists of a description of a number of groups of American Indians who Catlin met on his extensive travels in the West and Northwest during the 1830s. The descriptions come in the form of a series of letters, a relatively common format at the time. Most strikingly, the letters are accompanied by a wealth of engraved illustrations based on Catlin’s own paintings and drawings. The book represents a fairly common opinion of Native Americans at that time; namely that they were undoubtedly human but also undoubtedly savage and strange, possessing a lower form of civilization than Americans and Europeans. Nevertheless, Catlin demonstrates a marked respect, even affection, for his subjects, despite his ultimately racist attitudes. For a scholarly interpretation of Catlin and other Indian painters, see Julie Schimmel’s essay “Inventing the ‘Indian’” in the catalog for the exhibition The West as America.
The Home Book of the Picturesque is a splendid example of several important facets of American art and culture in the middle of the nineteenth century. The picturesque, a term describing a preference for a mediated landscape that shied away from extremes in either sublimity or beauty, was the preferred aesthetic category in America when this book was published. This book provides essays by the most famous men of letters at the time, including Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper, that delineate the picturesque features of the American countryside, primarily of Upstate New York and New England. These essays are illustrated by fifteen engravings after paintings by famed American landscape artists. This book thus represents a synthesis of word and image that was increasingly common during this period. Finally, The Home Book of the Picturesque is part of an effort by American cultural elites to inculcate a proper love of art in common people through the dissemination of prints and other representations of good taste. For more on the landscape painting of this period, please see Angela Miller’s The Empire of the Eye.
This book presents the photographic portraits and life stories of the seven remaining veterans of the American Revolution in 1864. Each of these men was over one hundred years old, and thus retained varying degrees of mental and physical vigor. Nevertheless, Hilliard did his best to transmit the details of these men’s lives, particularly as they related to the great battles of the Revolution and their interactions with great heroes such as George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette. The volume is of particular interest to art historians because it combines prose, photography, and lithography, perhaps the three most widespread forms of communication in the middle of the nineteenth century. The work was obviously also intended as propaganda in the ongoing American Civil War, as Hilliard stresses the men’s allegiance to the Union and hatred of the Rebellion at great length.
Special Collections » Manuscript Collection: request at Special Collections service desk » MSS PHOTO 194
The Magic Lantern, a device which used a lens and a lamp or candle to project a translucent image from a slide onto a wall, was invented in Germany in the sixteenth century and had been widely used by magicians and other entertainers ever since. With the invention of photography, however, people began to see other possible uses for this technology, and a means of affixing a photographic image to a glass slide was soon developed. Lantern slides thus became the dominant means of projecting images from the 1850s to the 1950s, and their use helped foster the development of a number of academic disciplines, including art history. These particular slides represent a group of ethnographic portraits of Native Americans and their environs in and around Santa Fe, New Mexico at the turn of the twentieth century. Like many lantern slides, several of them have been hand colored. These are interesting not only as exemplars of the ethnographic process, but also as exquisite examples of the technology itself.
This book, featuring engravings after the famed English artist William Henry Bartlett, is similar to The Home Book of the Picturesque, also in Special Collections. Originally published serially from 1837-1839, it was first published as a bound volume in 1840. Each engraving, all of which are of scenes in the Northeast, is accompanied by a text penned by the popular American essayist Nathaniel Parker Willis, whose Home Journal magazine still survives as Town and Country. The texts provide a description of the scenery as well as other details, including local wildlife and history. The inclusion of history, especially of the American Revolution, is especially interesting. This represents an attempt to create a usable past for the young country, giving its small amount of history greater weight by associating it with the great deeds of the Revolution.